Five young Iraqis have just begun a monthlong course of diplomatic training in Prague. A new generation of Iraqi envoys and junior diplomatic staff are taking part in what the Czechs say was the first offer of such schooling as part of international efforts to reconstruct Iraq.
Prague, 9 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Petr Kolar, a Czech deputy foreign minister, welcomed the five Iraqis who are just starting their diplomatic training in Prague. The junior diplomats were picked by the interim Iraqi Foreign Ministry for the monthlong course in the Czech capital.
Czech Diplomatic Academy Director Milan Jakobec introduced Kolar to Mrs. Alaa Hassan Muhammad.
"Welcome to Prague," he told her.
"Thank you very much," Muhammad said. "Nice to meet you."
"Isn't it too cold for you here?"
Muhammad replied, "No, no."
Kolar will be one of the lecturers on the course, which is run by the Diplomatic Academy.
Jakobec explained, "This will be a standard diplomatic menu, [including] training in subjects like negotiations, presentation skills, and television interviews and, of course, some lectures about such topics like human rights, postconflict renovation of the country, democratization of the country, security policy, the European Union, and other such issues."
Jakobec says his academy was the first that offered to help train Iraqi diplomats following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The Czech Republic is one of a handful of countries offering such schooling. Pakistan has already trained some diplomats, and Italy last month promised that it will, too. The Czech Foreign Ministry is paying the accommodations for the five diplomats, and the People In Need charity is contributing travel and other costs.
Jamil al-Jabbar had previously been studying for a master's degree in English literature before joining the foreign service. He says he'd like to land a post in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Britain. "I joined the diplomatic service for two reasons. First of all that I might be able to defend the interest of my people, my country, the whole of Iraq," he said. "The second reason is personal a little bit. It would be a good chance to see places, meet people, make relationships, adventures, everything. I hope to gain as much as I can [on this course] from diplomatic training, as much as I can from relations with diplomats and as much as I can from [seeing] Prague -- and Vienna and Berlin also, because there is a plan to [visit] Berlin and Vienna, God willing. I do think our experience here will help our society to change, to move from totalitarianism to a democracy, God willing."
Two women are among the five -- Anwar Hussein Hamid and Alaa Hassan Muhammad. It's Hamid's second time in Prague. She first visited as a 3-year-old -- an early experience that may have influenced her choice of an ideal diplomatic posting.
"We hope to gain more information," Muhammad said. "[It's] something very interesting to see other people, to contact them and to exchange our points of view. Maybe we [will] try to learn Czech language, which is very difficult. [This course offers us] a lot of things. For me, I would prefer to be in Baghdad [after the course ends] until things get better than before, then we can go abroad."
"For now, [I would prefer to be posted in] Baghdad, like Alaa," said Hamid. "But in the future, I would like to work in Prague, in the Czech Republic."
Although the emphasis is on a "new generation" of diplomats, several of the five who've come to Prague have been employed for some time by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, including one who did a stint at the Iraqi Embassy in Prague under the previous regime in Baghdad.
Kolar told the diplomats they will help contribute to rebuilding Iraq into a prosperous, stable and secure democracy. "As you know, our relations have a long tradition, and we are pleased we can build on this tradition of good and friendly relations," he said. "For us, it's a great challenge to help Iraq create a new establishment, a new society. You diplomats are an instrument of your country for creating new relations with the rest of the world."
Jakobec says they can also learn about the Czechs' experience transforming from a totalitarian system into a democracy. "I think we are not so far away from the situation in Iraq because it is just a dozen of years when we had our [attempts] to democratize our society," he said. "So I think we have maybe better empathy to our Iraqi colleagues than other countries which had the privilege to live in freedom."
The five diplomats will return to Baghdad at the beginning of February. The Czechs hope to bring a second group of diplomatic students in the autumn.